by Kate Smart
Once a year Radelaide comes alive to the sights and sounds of wheel spokes, lycra and the grinding of cranks thanks to the Tour Down Under.
The UCI World Tour kicks off in what is arguably one of Australia’s prettiest cities and no one can complain about the quality of the racing or the huge crowd numbers that turned out to watch their cycling heroes.
If anyone needed evidence that cycling is quickly growing as a spectator sport in Australia, you need look no further than at images from last week.
They were ten deep in places, lining the road with as much passion and enthusiasm as you would see in any European race.
Even the Tour de France’s race director, Christian Prudhomme called it “the TdF of January”.
So, what brought the crowds out?
Undoubtedly, Australia’s only winner of the TdF, Cadel Evans was a huge draw card for the event.
The appearance of the Australian at the road nationals in Ballarat earlier in the month and at the TDU has been a huge hit for the organisers of these events.
Everyone wants to see Cadel.
He may not be the most media friendly guy, but he is one of Australia’s most highly respected sportspeople.
Cadel Evans has that rarest of rare qualities.
Pat Rafter had it too.
Cadel Evans has that special honour of making you proud to be an Australian.
Think about it, and it doesn’t matter where you hail from, but how many people make you truly proud of your nationality?
He may never be about to jump up on the table and give us a ripping rendition of Advance Australia Fair, but Evans entertains and enthralls us all the same.
He is humble in victory and in defeat.
Another factor in the success of the TDU was also the thrilling battle for the ochre jersey between Evans and Orica GreenEdge’s Simon Gerrans.
Evans’ bold move on the Corkscrew and Gerrans’ hustle on Willunga Hill made for spectacular viewing, too.
But the race is not entirely Aussie-centric.
Andre Greipel has won so many stages and fans in the land down under that he is practically an honorary Australian.
To add to our admiration of him, we saw do so much more than be his team’s sprinter.
He was the consummate teammate, helping Adam Hansen in his attempt to stay in the top ten on GC.
The Queenslander began the last stage in eighth, but sadly lost some time in the final chaos of the crit stage.
He did, however, hang onto the white and green polka dot KOM jersey.
And if that wasn’t enough to get the crowds in, Jens Voigt’s final peddle around Adelaide and her surrounds was.
The veteran German remains immensely popular as he entertained crowds with his aggressive riding and naturally, his humorous tweets.
Clearly, this is a hugely popular race and the UCI must see this event as the perfect opener to the cycling season.
Compare the crowd numbers to the TDU with the upcoming Tours of Oman and Qatar.
TDU officials tout crowds over 750 000. The Tours of Oman and Qatar will be lucky to attract anything but a handful of spectators and yet as the UCI reviews its cycling calendar, it is the position of the TDU that draws question marks.
It is completely reasonable for the UCI to review its racing calendar and to ensure that they put up the best cycling season possible.
But what are the factors that the UCI is looking at when conducting this review?
The Sydney Morning Herald reported that new UCI President, Brian Cookson will be considering more than just crowd numbers when reviewing the racing calendar.
The UCI will take into account the technical operations of the race, including how well the race is received by riders and teams.
They will also look at media coverage and the economic impact of the event.
Once again, the SMH reported figures such as in 2013 the event added $43.6 million dollars to the local economy and attendance is up from 10 500 in 2007 to 40 000 last year.
I suspect this year’s numbers will be up again.
This criteria is also fair and reasonable for assessing the positioning of races, but it’s pretty clear the TDU ticks all of these boxes.
It is true there are some issues with the scheduling of the TDU for Australian audiences, namely that it clashes with the Australian Open tennis.
Whilst this is a personal tragedy for me, as I’m unlikely to ever get to the TDU for this reason and whilst I do thank the UCI for being concerned with my personal clash in favourite sporting events, I don’t feel they should be questioning the timing of the TDU on my behalf
The TDU also runs over the Australia Day long weekend and falls at the end of the school holidays, ensuring good crowd numbers.
Moving the TDU away from January to February only impacts negatively on other cycling events, such as the Herald Sun Tour.
The TDU is not just a boom for South Australia, but it is a boom for cycling fans all over Australia.
Let’s hope it continues it continues to be raced in January.
Kate Smart is an Australian journalist who specialises in sports, and can be contacted via Twitter here